Genghis Khan was one of the world’s greatest and most well-known rulers. He was born on the banks of the Onon River in 1162, and his death is thought to have occurred on August 18, 1227, although the details remain unconfirmed. He was the founder of the Mongol Empire which went on to become the largest ever contiguous empire. He was a political statesman and a military genius, and he successfully united many nomadic tribes under his leadership.
Here is a list of the top 12 curious facts about this remarkable Mongol ruler:
1. Was His Real Name Genghis?
The answer to the above question is no, Genghis Khan’s real name was “Temujin,” meaning “blacksmith.” The title Genghis Khan was not given to him until 1206 when he was declared the Mongol leader by the kurultai tribal council. The name Khan was given to reflect his status as leader, but the real meaning of the word “Genghis” is still unclear. Some historians believe it means “supreme” or “universal” ruler.
2. Are There Images or Pictures of Him?
You may have seen some of his images on the internet or in books, but these are not true depictions of him. There are no records which describe exactly how he looked, so very little about his physical appearance is known to historians. The reason behind this is that none of his sculptures survived. However, according to many historians and writers, he was a tall, strong man with long hair and a beard, and with a great personality. The most curious description of Genghis Khan came from the historian Rashid al-Din who clearly stated that he had green eyes and red hair. The most amazing thing about this description is that he never actually met the great ruler, yet confidently claimed to know so much about him.
3. He Practiced Religious Tolerance
This is an amazing fact which separates him from many other ancient rulers. Many of the other rulers maintained a strict religious bias, but this was not true of Genghis Khan. He awarded religious freedom in all of his territories, and on a personal level, the great khan was very spiritual. He always prayed in his tent before important campaigns and had meetings with the leaders of different religions to discuss the common interest of their kingdoms and faiths. His tolerance was believed to be politically motivated, as he thought that a contented kingdom would be less likely to stage a rebellion.
4. Mystery Death
Exactly when and how Genghis Khan’s great rule came to an end remains a mystery. A few sources claim he died in 1227 by falling from a horse, while other sources deny the fact. One source claims his death was due to malaria, and the guessing game surrounding his death continues to this day. His tomb is situated near a Mongolian mountain but bears no inscription.
5. A Difficult Childhood
Right from the word go, Genghis Khan had many challenges to face in life. His father was poisoned and killed when he was just nine years old. His tribe left his mother to raise her seven children alone without any support. He spent his childhood hunting for survival, and there are some reports that he killed his own brother in an argument over food. Genghis Khan endured many hardships – included slavery – before becoming a great ruler, and his huge bravery saw him through many of these ups and downs. After he came to power, he started to form alliances with other tribes and build his empire. By 1206, he had consolidated himself as an able leader, and his conquests continued.
6. His Generals Were His Former Enemies
Khan was a great talent scout and easily able to identify any skilled or experienced man to become one of his officers. There is a fascinating story about one of his enemies who tried to kill Khan in a battle but just missed his mark. At the end of the battle, Khan addressed the enemy troops, the Taijutsu tribe, and asked who it was that had tried to kill him. One man bravely stood up and admitted the attack. Later, Genghis offered that solider a highly respectable position as an officer in his army. The soldier was nicknamed “arrow” after the weapon he had used to try and kill Khan.
7. He Was Not Afraid of Destruction
It is said that Khan always gave his opponent the opportunity to surrender to Mongolian rule first, but did not shy away from attacking those who hesitated.
One example of this was when the Khwarezmid Empire did not agree to the terms of Mongol rule and instead broke a treaty. In retaliation, Khan mobilized his army with one aim in mind: to destroy the Khwarezmid Empire at any cost. Initially, Khan offered a trade agreement to the king, but Khan’s emissaries were murdered. This further stoked his rage, and he launched a full attack on the Khwarezmid kingdom in Persia.
What followed was a great war in which many Persians lost their lives. He did not stop after destroying the kingdom of Khwarezmid. He had other scores to settle. As part of his attack on the Persian kingdom, he asked for troops from the Tangut from the Western Xia region of China to support him. They refused, and Genghis ordered the execution of the royal family as a punishment for their disloyalty.
8. Responsible for Millions of Deaths
Exactly how many deaths Genghis Khan was responsible for is quite hard to determine, but some historians claim the number to be somewhere around 40 million people, or about three-quarters of today’s population of Iran. Many of these deaths occurred during the war with the Khwarezmid Empire. Statisticians claim this death toll might have reduced the population of the world by almost 11 percent. Despite his great contributions as a leader, the enormous loss of life during his reign will always throw a shadow over his rule.
9. First International Postal System
Genghis Khan was the very first person to create an international postal system to enhance his communication network. He introduced the “Yam” service which used mounted couriers to deliver mail. The riders were fast, and with rest breaks every few miles, they could cover up to 200 miles a day. This incredible system proved to be Khan’s eyes and ears, and he could obtain all the information he needed just by sitting on his throne. The entire system was so well designed that the transfer of goods became far too easy. Yam could keep track of political and military issues, and also establish contacts with spies for the kingdom. It acted as security during the visits of foreign dignitaries as well. This technology, which was first created and used by Khan, was also used by the famous explorer Marco Polo.
10. A Great Tactician
Genghis Khan was a skillful tactician, and his reign was highly organized and stable. His military used spy networks to detect and head off any threats to his rule. Genghis Khan is generally considered to have built a great and strong Mongolia with his superb vision and military genius.
11. Justice Was His Primary Concern
Genghis Khan was well known for his sense of justice among the Mongolians. He had a unique perspective and way of seeing things which set him apart from the intellectuals of the time. He was loyal to his kingdom in every possible way, but his sense of justice wasn’t only limited to the kingdom; he also applied it to his own sons. In order to avoid any further conflict or wars between them, he ensured that after his death, the empire was divided equally among them. Due to his vision and wisdom, he made his way into the hearts of millions of people in his kingdom.
12. Soviet Attempts to Eradicate His Legacy
Genghis Khan became a national hero, being the Mongolian Empire’s greatest king. He is also seen as a father figure for Mongolia, having greatly advanced their nation. But the Soviets who came to power in the 20th century tried to eradicate Genghis Khan’s name from the history books, believing his legacy to be a great threat to their leadership. They banned people from uttering his name, and in a bid to stamp out all traces of him, the Soviets removed him from all books and school texts. They didn’t stop there: they also restricted people from making any pilgrimages to his birthplace.
However, this is no longer the case. When the Mongolians regained independence in the 1990s, they restored Genghis Khan’s name as the greatest ruler in their illustrious history. Since then, Khan has been widely represented in art and popular culture, and the nation’s central airport has been named after him. Even today, the currency of Mongolia bears his image, and the people revere their great ruler in all possible respects without reference to his bloodthirsty reputation.
Khan was undoubtedly a great ruler, but the many deaths that he brought about cannot be ignored. While he enabled the rise of Mongolia in terms of wealth, power, culture, and religion, at the same time, he was responsible for the deaths of nearly 40 million people during his reign. He represents two sides of a coin which are in permanent opposition: on one side he was an exemplary leader and one of the greatest rulers in the history of the world, but on the other side, he showed a brutality and evil never before witnessed. However, due to his leadership abilities, he will always be immortalized as one of the worlds greatest rulers, not least in the hearts and minds of the Mongolian people.